A Surprising Solution to the Impeachment Morass

 politico.com  01/16/2020 10:06:43 

Moreover, although it is clear that Trump withheld the Ukrainian aide to advance his own political interests, additional testimony confirming this fact by Bolton is unlikely to sway enough Republican senators to achieve a two-thirds vote to remove Trump from office. Many Republican lawmakers, if given truth serum, would probably admit the presidents conduct involving Ukraine was not good. Yet many of them also genuinely believe Trump should not be ousted from the White House for this offense, especially with a presidential election on the horizon.

Similarly, not all Democrats (or their constituents) think the presidents conduct warrants removal, even if they feel it was reckless. Americans must confront the fact that there are good-faith differences on the impeachment and removal question that must be respected, not dismissed as insincere or illegitimate.

Few senators of either party want to be mired in this lose-lose situation. It is far better to gain something beneficial for the country and move on.

This is where new legislation comes in: With Pelosis consent, Senate leaders should structure a deal by which the impeachment proceedings would be halted pending agreement on definitive, bipartisan legislation that prevents any president (including the current one) or any other federal official from soliciting or accepting foreign involvement in domestic elections or political matters. Such a law would be enforceable by both federal and state prosecutors and punishable by substantial jail time. (A bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner and others to prevent foreign influence in U.S. elections, currently stalled in the Senate, is a good starting point.) Once those details were hashed out, and approved by the House and Senate, Congress would send this bipartisan bill to the president to sign.

Why would both sides agree on such legislation?

Because it would contain a provision that, if the president signed it into law without any additional statements seeking to limit it, both sides would agree to dismiss the impeachment articles without the need for a Senate trial. (And its hard to imagine that the presidents legal team wouldnt twist his arm to accept this partial win and move on.) Enacting such legislation would make a clear statement that foreign intervention in our elections is a serious matter and will not be tolerated. And presidents moving forward would be on notice that manipulating or consorting with foreign governments to extract personal political gain is unlawful.

That would be a major win for the whole country.

There is the complicating matter of the memo, coming from the Office of Legal Counsel, that states that a sitting president cannot be indicted. However, a president could not violate this new law without serious consequences.

If unambiguous legislation of this sort were adopted, a president would be guilty of an impeachable offense per se if he or she defied it. That is, it would be such a clear violation of the law that it would be nearly impossible to defend the president without triggering a public revolt. Senators would risk their own careers by defending such a flagrant law violation. Moreover, those individuals surrounding the president would be on notice that if they carried out the presidents orders and engaged in such conduct, they would go to jail. That would provide multiple inducements for future occupants of the White House to refrain from repeating such sins of self-interest. Its also possible such a flagrant law violation could also cause a repudiation of the current OLC memo and permit an indictment to be issued against the president.

The late Congressman Henry Hyde told me during book interviews that, despite losing the Senate trial and receiving flak for his role in the Clinton impeachment imbroglio, he was proud that hed pursued the prosecution so vigorously because Clinton would forever have an asterisk next to his name as the second president ever impeached by the House. When I conveyed this remark to Clinton during an interview in 2004, he became red-faced and exclaimed: Yeah. I hope Ill have two asterisks. The second is [I] beat them, and [I] beat them like a yard dog!

In the end, such competing, strident declarations of victory on both sides may be the best outcome we can hope for.

If a deal is struck to wrap up the Senate trial quickly after suitable legislation is enacted, Democrats will be able to boast that Trump has a permanent blot on his record as the third president ever impeached by the House of Representatives and that corrective legislation was achieved. Yet Republicans, including Trump himself, will be able to crow that he was acquitted of all charges and that such legislation was a minor deal.

And maybe, just maybe, members of both parties can feel they rose above the ugly partisanship that has consumed our nation for too long; that they did their constitutional duties and put the best interests of the country first; and they figured out how to get a half loaf while keeping the house of government intacta hallmark of true public service.

That would be a surprisingly good start to a fresh decade in the Capitol.

« Go back